A mix of nature paintings and photographs by two Poway artists who have pursued art later in their lives are on display at the Rancho Bernardo Library.
The latest free exhibit organized for the library’s second-floor hallway by the North County Society of Fine Arts features a combined 23 works by Betty Rexford and Sue Robertson. Their artwork is on view until the end of March at the library, 17110 Bernardo Center Drive.
Rexford said she enjoyed drawing on her classroom chalkboards and painting during her elementary years, but she pursued other interests after her mother died when she was 10.
Decades later, grief brought her back to art. When her only child, Kevin, died in 2009 from colon cancer at age 47 and cancer took her sister soon after that, Rexford said she found art to be a way to express herself while grieving.
“What art does for me is it gives me a release; it takes me to another place where I can relax, feel comfortable and express myself,” Rexford said.
“When I lost my only child … I had a hard time getting over it. Then my sister passed, so I lost two very important people,” she said, explaining she found painting for a little while each day helped her to relax, feel better and it took her mind off her problems.
She tried watercolors, acrylics and took classes through the North County Society of Fine Arts. The classes allowed her to meet and connect with other artists.
When ill with COVID and its subsequent medical complications for more than three months, Rexford said art helped with her physical recovery because it was among the few activities she could do when she couldn’t leave home.
Her painting subjects vary but often revolve around nature scenes and birds.
“There is a myriad of things one can do in paintings and what you paint is different (each time),” she said. “To me, it was the best thing I could do in my life, to get me through the ups and downs.”
Rexford and her husband, Paul, have lived in Poway for 55 years. She was a community activist for many years and from 1994 to 2010 served on the Poway City Council. During her council tenure Rexford said she promoted the arts and open spaces in the community.
Painting nature scenes led Rexford to see things around her differently, noticing their details and nuances.
“I see birds, their nests, it has opened my eyes to kids playing in the park, dogs in the park,” she said. “Inspiration is all around.”
Even a sunset she photographed from her backyard served as inspiration for her paintings.
“What we miss about life might be right in front of us. … I take that in more,” she said.
Rexford does not sell her artwork, but has exhibited it in several venues, including the Poway Center for the Performing Arts and Escondido Municipal Expression Gallery. She has won awards at the San Diego County Fair.
Of her 14 paintings on exhibit in the Rancho Bernardo Library, Rexford said the two featuring hummingbirds are her favorites.
“They were a challenge for me, trying to get my renderings of the little bits of them right,” she said.
Robertson, 72, said she began painting in 1996 but quit four years later when she and her late husband, Jack, decided to explore the United States for a few years while living in their motor home. Jack died in 2019.
She worked in the dentistry field for 21 years, but after the couple’s motor home adventures they moved to Poway over two decades ago because her mother lived in the area. That is when Robertson got her licenses in real estate and tax accounting. It was after her second retirement in 2015 that Robertson began painting again, even though she had joined the North County Society of Fine Arts several years earlier.
Oils became her preferred medium. Robertson said she has often found inspiration for her paintings in the nature photos she has taken, especially during her travels. This included Bryce Canyon, Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.
“I like the mountains, from the Rockies west,” she said.
Initially she used a high-quality digital camera, but recently found her iPhone is capable of taking good photos.
“It has really improved over the years,” Robertson said of iPhone technology.
“I tried watercolor, but it requires a flip of the brain. You leave the whites and paint light to dark,” Robertson said of the medium. “With oil you go dark to light, thick to thin.”
An instructor she studied with in Palm Desert in the late ‘90s also influenced her preference for painting with oils, she said.
“I used to get lost … painting all day so that I did not notice time,” Robertson said. “But now I have an attention span of about four hours.”
She said oil painting requires spreading out the time devoted to creating a piece because oils have to dry between layers.
“I look for beautiful objects … and interesting scenery,” Robertson said.
Of the seven photographs and two paintings in the library exhibit, Robertson said her photo “Watching the Girls” is among her favorites. The photo, of a male deer watching female deer, was taken while Robertson was in Yellowstone National Park.
“I had to zoom (the camera) to get just him,” Robertson said.
She has given away her paintings over the years to family members as gifts and does not sell her artwork.